Tag Archives: election 2016

Buckeye bellwether

Cleveland, Ohio

The Chicago Cubs might have narrowly beaten the Cleveland Indians to clinch the World Series last night, but it will not take Ohioans long to become distracted from the pain.

For as long as the Cubs have dwindled towards the bottom of the Major League Baseball ladder, Ohio has been what is known in as a “bellwether state” – home to voters that know which way the wind is blowing when it comes to presidential politics.

Like the Australian seat of Eden-Monaro in southwest NSW, Ohio has an uncanny knack of accurately predicting who the next US president will be. Indeed, in 25 of the 27 elections that have been held since 1904, the candidate that won Ohio also won the presidency.

Given there are only a few swing states in the country– with the vast majority being either safely blue or red – and that there is plenty of superstition surrounding Ohio ballots, both campaigns have been frequent visitors to the ‘buckeye state’ of late.

Earlier this week, I joined a couple hundred Clevelanders and fifty or so roving reporters to welcome the former Secretary of State to town. No stranger to the stump, Mrs Clinton gave a polished speech that took more than a few cues from Bernie Sanders’ campaign, focusing on her student loan debt reduction plan and the shortcomings of her opponent.

But while her supporters probably left buoyed – even inspired – by the up close and personal event, there is no doubt their enthusiasm paled in comparison with that of a different political crowd gathering across town.

About a mile out from the iX Center – Cleveland’s largest convention centre – the Republican nominee’s unmistakable head became visible, glaring down from a giant neon billboard alongside the five letters of his global brand: TRUMP.

Having been knocked back for a media pass (itself a telling difference between the two campaigns), I donned a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap and cautiously joined the 5,000-strong throng, paranoid I would be exposed as a pernicious, foreign journalist at any moment and ripped limb from limb.

I stood silently towards the back, fighting the urge to take notes and hoping no one would be offended by my lack of raucous cheering. The crowd whipped itself into a frenzy as the billionaire’s thick Queens accent began to boom from the stage, vigorously waving signs with slogans like “Women for Trump”, “Hillary for Prison” and “Deplorable Lives Matter” – a response to Clinton’s derogatory characterisation of Trump fans.

Partly the disparity in size and style between the two events has to do with the mundane fact that Trump’s event was primetime, Hillary’s in the afternoon.

Trump’s obvious showmanship is also a factor. I wasn’t the only one refraining from hooting and hollering, with a few other attendees likely more interested in glimpsing the candidate than voting for him (assuming they weren’t similarly cast asunder members of the press).

However, it can’t be denied it may also be a sign that Ohio is leaning Trump. In fact, Real Clear Politics has him leading Clinton by 2.7 points in the crucial state, according to the average of a number of polls taken in the past week, as do most others. Even the Huffington Post‘s poll has Trump up by half a percentage point – a publication likely to be read by very few Trump fans.

Once the global headquarters of the rubber tyre industry, in more recent times headlines about Ohio have told a sad story of economic stagnation and the decline of manufacturing (alongside occasional and very welcome sporting success).

Some have suggested this post-industrial malaise, and the joblessness it entails, is at least partly responsible for the Trump phenomenon, meaning it is no surprise he has a few natural supporters here.

Trump’s pledge to “renegotiate” the trade deals he says are responsible for factory jobs relocating overseas, as well as his more general mantra to revert national life to a previous era, resonate especially with these recently down and out folks.

His lead in Ohio heading into the final days of the campaign is all the more remarkable considering the state’s popular Republican governor John Kasich thinks so little of his own party’s nominee that he essentially donkey-voted, writing in the name of 2008 nominee John McCain instead of ticking the Trump-Pence box.

If the polls stay steady and Ohio stays true to its bellwether reputation, then there is a good chance Trump will be the next president.

But as the Chicago Cubs and their fans will be very happy to remind you, history does not always repeat itself.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons.

Published on 3 November 2016

Credit where due

Orlando, Florida

Last night Donald J Trump officially clinched the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination.  While his two remaining competitors, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, dropped out weeks ago (meaning he has been the presumptive nominee for some time) the milestone is significant nonetheless.

Whatever you think of Trump – and likely many of you think very little – it would be ignorant to play down the decisiveness with which he won this internal party race. Just as it was ignorant of his foes to underestimate him.

The loud-mouthed billionaire has come a long way since his ill-fated run at the White House in 2000 as the candidate for the fringe-dwelling conservative Reform Party.

With sixteen years to learn from his mistakes, Trump knew he needed to join the big leagues as the nominee for one of the two major parties. Watching Obama’s popularity drop, and no doubt in possession of the knowledge that the electorate usually swings every eight years or so, he knew which of the two organisations he had his sights on (the fact that he had donated to the other for decades a mere detail).

Announcing his candidacy on 16 June 2015 for the GOP ticket, few serious analysts gave him much of a chance. To the pundits (myself included), he was facing an insurmountable challenge: a line-up of more than a dozen of the Republican Party’s supposed best and brightest – senators and governors, policy wonks and champion debaters, veterans and valedictorians and even a Bush. Over the course of one of the most heated, if entertaining, primary elections in recent memory he not only attracted more votes but destroyed them all, one by one.

He left them pathetic and lifeless in his wake, these comparatively rigid people that had spent every moment of their lives trying to become President, only to be bested by a reality TV star property tycoon.

He is on track to receive more GOP primary votes than anyone ever in the history of the Republican Party. He therefore not only beat his sixteen or so 2016 rivals, but arguably also Eisenhower, Nixon, both Bushes, even Reagan.

And now he is doing the unthinkable once again, methodically going about the process of uniting the party, reaching out to the think-tankers and conservative figures who said “Never Trump” and extending an olive branch, while Hillary and Bernie still scrap like alley cats.

Of course, he is still a long way from the Oval Office. 56 per cent of Americans have an unfavourable view of him, according to the latest Fox News poll, and he now needs to win support from a very different electorate – the one that went for Barack Obama twice.

Still, he has a very loyal and lively base and has been successful as casting himself as the outsider in this anti-Establishment climate. Should Clinton become the Democratic nominee (as is likely, if not certain) this will be a huge advantage for Trump, up against someone who has been in politics for forty years and has lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue already.

To be clear, I personally wouldn’t vote for Trump. While he is free to say as many sexist or xenophobic things as he likes, it’s not what I look for in a leader of the free world. More worryingly, I think there is a chance (albeit perhaps a small one) that he is an out and out tyrant in the making. He decries compromise and diplomacy as weak, rails against free trade, praises dictators and has seemingly little love for the US constitution. But then, as a foreigner and, even worse – a journalist – what I think really shouldn’t matter.

And that is the point for any international observers. You might not like his bluster or temperament, you might fear his presidency (and perhaps with good reason), but his victories so far are undeniably a win for democracy.

The blue-collar, God-fearing, oft-forgotten folks of middle America have made their choice, and they don’t give a flying fuck what coastal, city-dwelling elites think of it – let alone people overseas.

The cynic in me says their choice (while bold) will not be enough to stop the Clinton political machine, not once Bernie is out of the way and Hollywood, the mainstream media and maybe even Wall Street fall into line.

But, if the past year is anything to go by, anyone betting against Donald Trump is more foolish than the GOP nominee himself.

av trump

“If you can’t beat them, join them”. Halloween 2015, Dallas, TX.

Published on 27 May 2016